A landing craft is a piece of military equipment which is designed to transport people from a ship to the shore. There are a number of different types of equipment used for this purpose, including seagoing vehicles which act as personnel carriers and boats which drop people off along the shoreline. Landing craft are an important part of the arsenal of many naval forces around the world, and like many pieces of military equipment, they are constantly being refined and improved to expand range and functionality. Historically, they have also be used in trading with communities which lack proper ports and harbors, forcing ships to drop anchor offshore and use a smaller boat to reach land.
Some of the most famous examples of landing craft are probably the boats used for the Normandy Landings during the Second World War. These flat-bottomed, high-sided boats carried troops and equipment, with a front which folded down when the boat reached the shore to create a ramp so that passengers could disembark. This design was sluggish in the water, but highly effective at getting people where they needed to go, and numerous versions of it can be found in use today.
Several militaries use hovercraft as landing craft, with the boat riding up the beach. Demonstrations of such craft have shown them to be extremely versatile and effective at reaching many different types of shoreline. Like other landing craft, they can be equipped with guns and other defensive equipment to repel forces on a beach, ensuring that the people on the landing craft have cover until they are able to reach their own equipment.
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Motorized vehicles can also be used as landing craft. Some are loaded into boats and driven through the surf, providing transport for troops and equipment in an armored vehicle. One advantage of using motorized vehicles to land troops is that they protect their occupants while they drive up the beach, giving them an advantage over troops who are forced to disembark from a boat and immediately engage in combat with defenders along the shoreline.
Space ships also use landing craft which are more properly known as landers. Landers are smaller craft which can be dispatched from a larger ship or shuttle to the surface of an object of interest. Landers are easier to handle than space ships and they are specifically designed to land on difficult terrain. Space landing craft can also be attached to scientific probes used to collect data about the environment where they land, and to take samples without forcing people on the landing craft to get out.